The Shortlist & Winners:
This year was the second year of our book awards after taking a break in 2015 due to the publication of Wall Street Journal bestseller Non-Obvious by our founder Rohit Bhargava. After reimagining the format for our awards program, this was the first year the awards were rebranded under the Non-Obvious brand and expanded to consider more books from a wider range of categories. This year's awards did not include a Longlist. Here are our Shortlist and Winner selections:
by Martin Lindstrom
Our Review: If you are a fan of books that provide so many insights you’ll be fueled with enough cocktail party stories to keep an audience rapt for hours then you’ll love this book. Like most of Lindstrom’s other titles, the insights in Small Data are based on his uniquely crazy self imposed schedule of spending over 300 nights a year away from home. All that time is spent interviewing consumers, asking questions and generally paying attention to things that others don’t. Why must Americans greet one another in an elevator? What causes Russian families use fridge magnets as small daily escapes? Why does “fresh” have nothing to do with a product’s expiration date? These questions are just a sampling of the many intellectual nuggets of insight littered throughout this book. Lindstrom’s method of seeing the tiniest of details and nurturing them into big insights will give you a new appreciation for “small data” and just how huge its impact can be.
by Al Pittampalli
Our Review: Some of the most powerful books you’ll ever read are based on deceptively simple principles. This book is a perfect example of that. In Persuadable, Pittampalli convinces us that it is a unique type of leader that can have the confidence and vision to take input and change their minds … and this is exactly what each of us should aspire to be. In a political climate filled with opinions based on beliefs versus facts – this book is not only a wonderfully important reminder of the value of compromise, but also exactly the sort of wake up call that should sit on your shelf to symbolize that little voice in our heads we all should nurture telling us to seek out better ideas, listen earnestly and have the willingness to change our minds.
by Dan Lyons
Our Review: I did not want to like this book because it exposes marketing and startup culture in an unflattering way that makes it seem like anyone practicing online marketing is essentially the latest incarnation of a snake oil salesman. In short, it doesn’t make me proud of my industry. Yet as I starting reading the book recently on a flight, I began to see past my own discomfort and digest the broader point of this book – and it is profound. When you spend enough time in any industry, it is easy to gloss over its faults. It takes an outsider to point them out, and Dan Lyons assumes this role with comical ease. He is the ultimate outsider to tech bro culture – both by training and by age. As he tells the story of being laid off from a prestigious role Newsweek and ultimately taking a job as a “content creator” at Hubspot while being twice the age of most of his colleagues, his story exposes the real gulf between what marketers call content and journalists call fluff. As he turned his ethnographic lens on the way many tech companies treat workers like widgets while offering a ping pong table infused impression of workplace culture – the artificiality and inherent bullshit of this culture came to life powerfully. I have heard him say in interviews that the book was not intended as a take down of Hubspot as a company. I believe that – it felt more like a takedown of bullshit in all its forms. When I finally put the book down after reading it cover to cover on a 3 hour flight I found myself thinking a little bit differently about my own work and role as a marketer. Sometimes, you need a wake up call to remind yourself to be better. This book offered that for me – and I highly recommend it.
by Tim Harford
Our Review: With the voice of a journalist and the insight of a curious economist, award winning writer Tim Harford creates another masterful argument in his latest book – this time all about the forgotten virtues of disorder. In a world enchanted by the sort of order quantified and cultified by Marie Kondo in her wildly popular book The Life Changing Art Of Tidying Up – Harford takes the opposite approach and shares exactly how untidiness and being messy might sometimes bring out the best in us and allow to achieve things we otherwise might never have achieved. His writing style is compelling, intellectual and a joy to spend time with as he shares his unique and well researched point. Ultimately, the book takes an unexpected story driven approach very similar to the style of Freakonomics to offer a similarly powerful idea about how the world works and what it takes to be more successful in it. This is one of those books where I knew ten pages into it that I would most likely reread it several times in the coming years.
by Chris Anderson
Our Review: Some books are easy to imagine exploding into narrative form from an Author’s lifetime of work. Then there are the books that probably took years of cajoling from well intentioned friends before they finally come to fruition. This book seems like the latter. In a quiet signature style, TED founder Chris Anderson takes readers behind the scenes of some of the most well known moments from the iconic TED stage and what it took for those speakers to get there. Before TED Talks, the idea of a 17 minute non-fiction talk going “viral” with millions of views would have been unheard of. The point this book makes over and over again is that this is the real power of a great talk in the right moment. It can turn companies around and inspire people like nothing else. The premise of delivering an actual TED talk may seem like the most intimidating way to try and improve your speaking skills. The vaunted position TED talks take in our consciousness could make it seem like an unapproachable ideal. Yet reading this book, the one belief that comes through loud and clear is that being a powerful speaker is a skill that is within reach for anyone. Rather than sharing a secret formula for an ideal TED talk, Anderson offers tips and techniques that TED speakers use, but which could be applied for anyone. Aside from having delivered 2 TEDx talks myself, I also currently teach storytelling and speaking at Georgetown University. I will be recommending this book to my students – and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking an actionable and entertaining book on becoming a more persuasive speaker as well.
by Chris Voss
Our Review: I am usually not a fan of how-to style books like this “written” by an expert but most likely ghostwritten off a series of conversations. This book is different because the anecdotes and situations shared in the book are highly relevant and immediately useful. While most of us will never find ourselves in as serious a situation for negotiating as the author was routinely in, the lessons we can take from these are powerful and necessary. The central idea of the book focuses on the art of “Tactical Empathy” – which may seem a bit jaded but works undeniably well in the situations the author describes. Perhaps the biggest reason to read this book are the entertaining stories and situations that the author was in, which each offer their own valuable lessons and learnings.
by David Burkus
Our Review: This fascinating book from management guru David Burkus takes just about every counterintuitive business myth you might have heard over the past several years and turns it into a collection of business truths that feel new and old at the same time … and that’s a good thing. Sharing now well worn ideas like paying people to quit (a now famous business practice first popularized by Zappos) alongside newer and scarier ideas like making salaries transparent makes for a surprisingly original collection of new ideas about management. Put customers second? Ban non-competes? Lose your vacation policy? The ideas in this book may be dismissed as a recipe for anarchy by corporate bureaucrats and drive lawyers crazy … but for the rest of us they offer a uniquely useful guidebook to the fascinatingly flat future of business.
by Nancy Duarte & Patti Sanchez
Our Review: Most business books are filled with models and charts. If you are familiar with Nancy’s beautiful books, you already know that perhaps these illustrations will look better than average – but it is easy to type cast a book like this as being yet another collection of frameworks that look good but are hard to follow in real life. In this case, that would be a mistake. The most powerful part of this book is the case study driven approach the author takes to bring you inside how real brands are using the models to win. The best part comes at the end, when Nancy turns the lens inwards and gives you a fascinating look behind the scenes as the decades long growth of Duarte Design and how the firm managed to handle it. As a longtime admirer of what she has done (and her books) – Illuminate gave me a long awaited peek behind the curtain … and it was worth the wait.
by Jonah Berger
Our Review: Like most of Jonah Berger’s books this one is a cross between social science, psychology, marketing, storytelling and sales. I love books like this one the way that kids love candy. It might explain why I had my preorder in for this one months before it came out. The book doesn’t disappoint. The author’s premise, that we are influenced by hidden “invisible” forces more than we realize is very simple. Understanding when it is happening to us (or when we might exert this influence ourselves) is the hard part. As I read this book, I thought a lot about those forces in my own life that control the decisions I make and my own quest to become more aware of them. Yes, knowing these techniques can make you more influential and probably a better sales person. The bigger idea of this book, though, is just how much understanding these invisible influences can help you to understand the decisions you make for yourself.
by Adam Grant
Our Review: Why are Nobel prize winning scientists far more likely to also have a personal interest in the arts? What makes younger siblings more likely to take risks and break rules? This book is filled with stories of people who happen to become “originals” and think in unique ways, sometimes despite the situations they are placed into. Reading this book, the thing that felt most striking to me was how it brings together the insights that are individually covered in so many other books into a single narrative. The ideas presented in the research and stories span from the importance of strategic procrastination to how (and how not to) praise children, to how to disarm a detractor by starting with an honest assessment of your own flaws. Ideas that I recall in passing from modern classics like Mindset (Carol Dweck), To Sell Is Human (Dan Pink), Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely), Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) and Quiet (Susan Cain), as well as newer books like The Sibling Effect (Jeffrey Kluger) or Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg) are all in this book. What makes it unique and different is how the author moves between ideas that typically have entire books devoted to them and weaves them together into a single narrative. The result is a book that reads like a combination of a new idea and a series of cliff notes style summaries of ideas you have heard before but are not quite sure how to put together. That in itself is a brilliant act of curation – made even more so by the fact that the author arrives at these conclusions through is own research instead of rehashing each of these books. The end result is a rare book that takes existing ideas and really does make them new again and worth reading.
by Steven Johnson
Our Review: What if the secret to creating the world’s biggest innovations was having the most fun? In this compellingly original book, Author Steven Johnson takes you on a historical tour of some of the most interesting times in history and how diversion and play consistently contributed to the innovation of the time. In one chapter, for example, he tells the fascinating history of spices and connects the quest for more spice from European elite to the modern development of the Dorito chip. The book is filled with unexpected connections like that. Makes it more of a pleasure to read are the many beautiful illustrations and the highly visual layout and breaks up the book’s more intellectual and academic prose writing style. This is not the easiest book to read due to the style of the author, but once you get into the content the ideas behind them and the deep sense of history and how it contributed to our modern world is a topic that is not explored widely enough.
by Ryan Holiday
Our Review: There aren’t many books that I finish reading and immediately wish I had thought of writing. This was one of them. The book is full of tweet-worthy quotes like “Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.” or “Impressing people is utterly different than being impressive.” – and the format of the book mixes these pithy comments with stories from history of leaders who were able to manage their egos on their paths to greatness. It is hard to imagine a more timely topic for a book. We live in a time when big data inspired narcissism allows each of us to create our own versions of MEdia celebrating ourselves and reinforcing our own beliefs. In the backdrop we watch egomaniacal leaders battle for (or win) Presidencies in the US, Brazil, Philippines, Guatemala, Austria plus global sports organizations like FIFA and the list goes on. At the same time, millions of millennials are entering the workforce with new expectations about the meaningfulness of work and their own places in it. Yes, all of this makes Ego Is The Enemy more than a well timed idea … it manages to also offer exactly the sort of message more people need to hear. Perhaps the only thing holding the idea back is the unapproachable cover which belies the currency and relevance of the idea. Do not judge this rare and brilliant book by its underwhelming cover. To transform your thinking actually help you be better, Ego Is the Enemy may be the most important book you read this year.
by Angela Duckworth
Our Review: Grit is more important than talent – and a greater predictor of success. That is the central idea behind this passionately researched book from MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Duckworth. Her book, however, goes further than that in an effort to explore the many dimensions of a personality trait that most of us can appreciate as important but rarely think further about. Filled with fascinating stories like the ascent of NFL pro quarterback Steve Young and studies predicting which military cadets at Westpoint would succeed (and which wouldn’t) based on her own research – this book offers an insightful look at a secret to success which has little to do with being the most talented person in the room and everything to do with passion and determination. This wide ranging book not only offers a blueprint for how to increase your own grit, but extends its focus to peripheral but highly valuable other situations as well – such as how to create a culture of grit in an organization and how to instill more grit in your children as a parent. There is a reason this was one of the most talked about books of the past year, and one you should add to your reading list.
by Jay Baer
Our Review: I had the good fortune to see Jay practice his keynote speech for this book nearly a year before it was published – and you could tell it was going to be great. Now that I have read it, I’m sure it is. Continuing in the intellectual tradition from his last book Youtility of providing amazingly useful ideas boiled down into easy to implement steps, the premise of this book is defiantly simple: embrace the people who actively hate you. It can be hard advice to take, but this wonderful book is filled with unexpected stories of brands building powerful loyalty, people having transformative experiences and perhaps even the hidden secret to making you a happier person. Embracing hate is hard. Read this powerful book to show you how and why learning how to do it may be the most important communications commitment you make this year.
by Tim Sanders
Our Review: There is no shortage of sales books on how to close deals, but this new one from Tim Sanders is worth a look for the simplicity and originality of its premise. In a world where we often hear that great sales is all about emotional intelligence or understanding the nuances of brain psychology, Tim shares the unique premise in his book that the key to big deals is better internal collaboration and bringing in diverse viewpoints. The book title, a merging of deal making and brainstorming, gives an inside look at the techniques that Tim has practiced and used with some of the largest organizations in the world. Already a legend and personal hero of mine for the elegance of his book The Likeability Factor more than a decade ago – he is exactly the sort of person worth learning from and I highly recommend his latest book! Bonus: Watch Tim Sander's interview with Rohit Bhargava for the Voices of Authority Show >>
*Note - All reviews above are written by Non-Obvious Company founder Rohit Bhargava.
About the Non-Obvious Book Awards
These awards are organized and judged by the team at the Non-Obvious Company. Our mission is to help leaders, organizations and curious minds learn the habits that allow them to see what others miss and face the unknown. We do this through our published books, popular keynotes, custom workshops, annual book awards and our weekly Non-Obvious Insights Show.
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